An artful enterprise: David Quayle used to run a chain of DIY superstores. Then he hit on the idea of opening a commercial art gallery. Robin Dutt reports

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When David Quayle decided to sell his share of the B & Q empire, retirement was the last thing on his mind. After several years at the helm of the DIY business he chose to return to his first love: art. Although describing himself as 'a failed art student', he had no intention of turning into a Sunday painter. Instead he came up with an ambitious project, the creation of the largest contemporary art gallery in Southern England: the Beatrice Royal, Southampton.

Thanks to an investment of almost pounds 390,000 in renovation, the gallery - formerly a disused 1950s United Reform church - now boasts 12 individual showing spaces, a total of 5000 square feet, with superb natural and artificial light and even on-site parking. Quayle's idea was to make art as accessible as possible.

'The arts in the provinces really aren't very well served,' Quayle says. 'Living artists especially have a hard time but I believe that by using the skills of merchandising and retail, more artists can make a living. We're aiming at four major shows a year in 13-week cycles.'

The Beatrice Royal Gallery is a project of the Tramman Trust, set up by Quayle as a charity. Profits from the sale of art are reinvested to support further shows. Quayle's obvious enthusiasm is mixed with a healthy tranche of business realism. 'The gallery must pay its way. It has to work but the trust has provided the building and running costs for the next three years at least.'

Quayle handles day-to-day gallery business, but artistic selections are left to his inspirational art director Michael Gaca, who brings Cork Street and St James's Gallery experience to this more visitor- friendly space. Initially, 450 artists from all over the country were considered for showing before a seed group of 90 was settled on, including such names as Mark Alexander, Sharon Brindle, and Antonio Pacitti.

Gaca's task was not simple. He spends his time looking at transparencies on light boxes and rushing around the country to studios looking for potential artists who fit the Beatrice Royal bill. The work that has currently been exhibited is generally non-confrontational and easy on the eye, unlikely to scare people off. The usual flowers, fruits, abstracts and figurative sculpture are all here, easily imaginable in domestic and office situations. But the feeling is that some more challenging work will begin to filter in.

In the last two months of the gallery's opening it has sold a work nearly every day, at prices between pounds 100 and pounds 4000. So it seems to be working. But Quayle and Gaca are celebrating this initial success quietly, aware that this is the honeymoon period of a long-term project and that continued success will depend on finding more and more challenging and reasonably priced work.

'We want to broaden the base of the type of person who might collect,' Quayle says. As an encouragement, the gallery is to offer up to pounds 1500 instant interest-free credit. The whole idea is to allow people the luxury of knowing that art is for them too.

Coming from a background of company directorships, Quayle is relishing the new challenges. 'This is new. To me, the excitement is to see whether ideas work. If they do, you add another dimension to your life.'

The Beatrice Royal Art Gallery, Nightingale Avenue, Eastleigh, Southampton (0703 610592). 11am-8pm, Tues to Fri; 11am-5pm Sat, Sun

(Photograph omitted)

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